A deep understanding of our identity as Christians is needed to combat the modern tendency to reduce the faith to superficiality, Pope Francis told 68 bishops from 35 countries gathered during his trip to South Korea.
“Without a grounding in Christ, the truths by which we live our lives can gradually recede, the practice of the virtues can become formalistic, and dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree,” he warned in an Aug. 16 address at the shrine in Haemi.
In his remarks, the Pope zeroed in on the theme of Christian identity, outlining both major threats to it in today's society as well as ways the bishops can embrace it and evangelize more fully.
Announced by the Vatican in March, the Pope's Aug. 13-18 trip follows an invitation from the president of the Korean Republic, Park Geun-hye, and the bishops of Korea.
During his time, the Pope traveled from the capital city of Seoul to Daejon, where he celebrated the Sixth Asian Youth Day with thousands of young people. He also visited the rehabilitation center for disabled persons in Kkottongnae, made a trip to the shrine in Haemi for a closing Mass with Asian youth.
Speaking to the bishops on Sunday, Pope Francis said that the first and most insidious threat to Christian identity lies in the “deceptive light of relativism” – which, “obscures the splendor of truth and, shaking the earth beneath our feet, pulls us toward the shifting sands of confusion and despair.”
“Here I am not speaking about relativism merely as a system of thought,” he clarified, “but about that everyday practical relativism which almost imperceptibly saps our sense of identity.”
This dynamic spills into another threat against Christian identity, which is the temptation to reduce the faith, and the hide behind the security of simplifying it into “easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations.”
“Faith by nature is not self-absorbed; it 'goes out,'” he stressed. “It seeks understanding; it gives rise to testimony; it generates mission.”
Addressing the specific challenges to the Asian Church, the Pope emphasized that dialogue is an essential part of the region's mission.
“But in undertaking the path of dialogue with individuals and cultures, what should be our point of departure and the fundamental point of reference which guides us to our destination? Surely it is our own identity, our identity as Christians.”
“We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity,” he said. “Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak.”
Christian identity, he noted, begs the questions of whether or not it is being lived out in Church catechesis and youth ministry, service to the poor, and fostering of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“Finally, together with a clear sense of our own Christian identity, authentic dialogue also demands a
capacity for empathy,” he said.
“We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns.”
“When we look out at the great Asian continent, with its vast expanses of land, its ancient cultures and traditions, we are aware that, in God’s plan, your Christian communities are indeed a pusillus grex, a small flock which nonetheless is charged to bring the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth,” the Pope concluded.
“May the Good Shepherd, who knows and loves each of his sheep, guide and strengthen your efforts to build up their unity with him and with all the members of his flock throughout the world.”